Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Maple Syrup Madness

Making maple syrup is a harbinger of spring in Minnesota, and a fun way to produce something tasty in your own back yard. We recently attended the "Maple Syrup Madness" event at Wargo Nature Center to get the deets on making our own maple syrup.

Four species of maple can be used for collecting sap in Minnesota. Folks generally prefer the sugar maple or hard maple, (Acer saccharum) because it yields the sweetest sap. However, sap can also be gathered from red maple (Acer rubrum), silver maple (Acer saccharinum), and boxelder (Acer negundo). It doesn't matter where your tree is located - yard trees, street trees, and open grown trees in pastures or woodlands can be used for maple sap production.

To get your hands on the best sap, tapping should be completed by mid-February in central and southern Minnesota and by the second week in March in the northern portion of the state. A tree suitable for tapping should have a 10 inch diameter and be in healthy condition.

To tap a tree, select a spot on the trunk about two to four feet above the ground in an area of the trunk that appears to contain sound wood. Drill a hole about 2 inches deep, slanting it slightly upward. This encourages proper downward flow of the sap.

Insert the spile (collection spout) and hammer it lightly into the tree. Attach a collection container to the spile, and make sure the container you use is sealed to keep the pests and debris out.

Sap does not flow from maple trees every day throughout the tapping season. It flows on warm days that follow nights when it drops below freezing. Thus, the amount of sap you collect will vary from day to day. But that's no big deal, right? Empty the collection container daily, and store the sap in your refrigerator or freezer.

Just so you know, sap's sugar concentration is around two percent. At that rate, forty-three gallons of sap are required to produce one gallon of syrup. A single taphole can yield 15 gallons, so you can make about 3 pints of syrup from that tree in your backyard if the conditions are favorable.

Now that you have collected the maple sap, here's how to turn it into maple syrup:

1. Strain the sap through some sort of filter to remove any debris.

2. Boil the sap in a large stainless steel pot or pan. You can build an outdoor firepit, use a camp stove, or even use your gas grill. Boiling outside is your best bet. The syrup steam will make your walls and ceiling sticky.

3. Take the temperature of the sap when it first comes to a boil. This will help you know when it is finished syrup. The temperature will be about 219 degrees for finished syrup. To help keep the sap from boiling over, rub a bit of butter or around the rim of the pan.

9. Strain the finished syrup through again to remove any bits of debris, as well as any crystalized minerals.

10. The sugar content of maple syrup is high enough that it can be stored at room temperature without spoiling. So you can store it in your favorite salvaged maple syrup bottle.

There are tons of resources online to help you make your own maple syrup. University of Minnesota Extension offers these instructions.

Click here to view our full set of photos from Maple Syrup Madness at Wargo Nature Center.

[where: Sustainable Food, Maple Syrup, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

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